Entry begun Wednesday, December 3, 7:45 am
Jake’s visit turned out great. I got to go to a private rehearsal of the Great Scott opera on Sunday, November 23, two days before highlights were presented at the public conclusion of the Opera Fusion workshop. On Sunday night I got to follow a copy of the libretto as the roles were being performed consecutively for the first time. This private rehearsal was an off-the-record event, so I cannot write much about it here other than to say that the eight singers performed beautifully accompanied by two pianos and conducted by Evan Rogister in the presence of composer Jake Heggie and librettist Terrence McNally, as each heard the current version of their newest creation sung through for the first time, each at a table right in front of the singers, stage director Jack O’Brian sharing McNally’s table. (Heggie and McNally had previously collaborated on the opera Dead Man Walking.)
It was a rainy night as I walked to the rehearsal space in Music Hall, and I was glad to meet in the elevator Keith Cerny and other executives from the Dallas Opera who are commissioning Great Scott for its Dallas premiere next October, with Joyce DiDonato in the leading role. I had gotten to know Keith and some of his colleagues when attending the Dallas premiere of Jake’s Moby-Dick opera in 2010, followed by a visit to Denton in 2013 to celebrate the publication of my book on the opera by the University of North Texas Press. That book featured over two hundred photos by Dallas Opera photographer Karen Almond, including some she had taken at the Moby-Dick workshop in San Francisco in 2009. I had been delighted to hear that Karen was coming to Cincinnati to photograph the Great Scott! workshop, and I had a wonderful reunion with her on Saturday night, bringing her over to the Kentucky side of the river to have dinner and meet my wife Joan for the first time.
The public performance of highlights from Great Scott! at Memorial Hall on Tuesday, November 25, was a delight. The public venue and the energy from the audience made for a very stimulating evening. I loved Renée Rapier in the role of Arden Scott that Joyce DiDonato will premiere in Dallas. Jake hosted the evening and graciously showcased two current College Conservatory of Music students from a master class earlier in the week before introducing the night’s highlights from Great Scott! I came to the event with Kimberly Gelbwasser, the NKU soprano who will be singing Jake’s five most recent Dickinson songs at our concert in February, and Douglass Pew, the NKU composer who is writing three brand-new Dickinson songs for Kimberly’s concert. I love hearing music with musicians, and Kimberly is a good friend of Emily Albrink, the soprano who had the role of Tatyana Bakst in the Great Scott! workshop—and who certainly made the most of it on the Memorial Hall stage. I hope I can get down to Dallas for the premiere in October.
Jake was as gracious after the performance as he was with the singers on stage, agreeing to take a four-way selfie with Kimberly, Doug, and me before heading down to the reception. He was energized by his week in Cincinnati and says he now knows “exactly” where to go with the rest of the opera. After he got home, I sent him a link to my blog entry about his coaching session with Kimberly to ask if I had his permission to post it. He was happy to have it posted and he was “grateful” that I had been moved to tears when Kimberly had sung “That I did always love” to his accompaniment. For him, my tears meant “that—for that moment—we were all one with Emily’s great passion, power and imagination—and that she was alive again in the room. That is so powerful to me. I love that we know when that is happening—and we are all so keenly aware when it is not!”
Jake and I did receive some bad news about a week before the Cincinnati workshop. Artistic director Evans Mirageas had called each of us to say that the Cincinnati Opera will not be able to produce Moby-Dick as expected in June 2016. The reasons for this decision were logistical and financial and currently unavoidable. Moby-Dick will almost certainly come to Cincinnati at a later date—if not in the original Dallas production, then new production with a new design that would allow it to travel to a number of companies who have wished to stage it but were not able to. This new development, which may eventually result in two different versions of the opera being performed in different venues, is probably a very healthy one for the longevity of the work itself, but it is certainly a deep disappointment for Cincinnati here and now. When I shared this news with the museums and galleries who were actively interested in mounting Moby-Dick exhibitions in connection with the June 2016 production, I was glad to hear that several are still considering doing their shows anyway. That would be great, especially since some of my local Moby artists are creating some great work right now with 2016 in mind.